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Documenting madness: Female patients of the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum
07:29 am



Among the early pioneers of photography in the 1800s was a middle-aged English doctor called Hugh Welch Diamond, who believed photography could be used in the diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill. Diamond first established his medical career with a private practice in Soho, London, before specializing in psychiatry and becoming Resident Superintendent of the Female Department at the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in 1848—a position he held until 1858. Diamond was an early adopter of photography, taking his first portraits just three months after Henry Fox Talbot licensed his “salt print” process for producing “photogenic drawings.” As a follower of “physiognomics”—a popular science based on the theory that disease (and character) could be discerned from an individual’s features or physiognomy—Diamond believed photography could be used as a curative therapy.

In documenting madness, Diamond was following on from his predecessor at Surrey County, Sir Alexander Morison who had produced a book of illustrations by various artists depicting patients at the asylum called The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases in 1838. Diamond believed the book was not scientific as the drawings were mainly illustrative interpretations of what the artist saw and could therefore veer towards caricature. He believed that the camera was the only way in which doctors could document illness without taint of prejudice:

The Metaphysician and Moralist, the Physician and Physiologist will approach such an inquiry with their peculiar views, definitions and classifications—The Photographer needs in many cases no aid from any language of his own, but prefers to listen, with the picture before him, to the silent but telling language of nature.

Between 1848-58, Diamond photographed the women patients at Surrey County, taking their portraits against a curtained wall or canvas screen. He became convinced he was able to diagnose a patient’s mental illness from their photographic portrait and then use the image as a therapeutic cure to sanity—the idea being the patient would be able to recognize the sickness in their features. As evidence of this, he cited his success with one patient who he had used the process on:

Her subsequent amusement in seeing the portraits and her frequent conversation about them was the first decided step in her gradual improvement, and about four months ago she was discharged perfectly cured, and laughed heartily at her former imaginations…

Convinced he had found a possible cure to mental illness, Diamond presented a paper “On the Application of Photography to the Physiognomic and Mental Phenomena of Insanity” to the Royal Society of Medicine in May 1856, in which he explained his theories. While many scientists and doctors saw the merit in Diamond’s propositions, they were eventually dismissed as “pseudo-science,” “snake oil” and “quackery.” However, the belief in physiognomy as a form of scientific empiricism was developed by police detective, biometrics researcher and inventor of the mugshot, Alphonse Bertillon, who devised a system of anthropometry for classifying criminals. This was later dropped in favor of fingerprinting and later DNA.

Diamond’s ideas on the diagnostic and curative nature of photography have long been discredited, however, he is now best remembered as a pioneer of psychiatric photography.

During his time at Surrey County, Diamond was able to document most of the female patients as the asylum was a public institution, which meant the patients had no rights to privacy. It’s interesting to note that when he left Surrey for a privately run asylum in Twickenham, Diamond was not permitted to take patients’ portraits. The following is a selection of Diamond’s portraits of the patients at Surrey County Asylum, more can be seen here. Alas, I was unable to find details to the identities of the sitters or their illnesses.
More portraits after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
50 years ago today Bob Dylan totally blew our minds with ‘Like a Rolling Stone’
11:23 am



It was 50 years ago today that one of the truly momentous events in rock history took place when Bob Dylan recorded “Like A Rolling Stone” in New York City at Columbia Records’ Studio A. Within weeks of its release on July 15, 1965, the song became a massive hit, where it nestled on the Billboard charts for several months.

“Like Rolling Stone” was a game changer. It opened the doors for a new kind of music that fused folk with electric rock and brought a kind of sophisticated lyricism to top 40 radio that hadn’t really been heard up until then. The only comparable rock and roll word-slinger was Chuck Berry. To my ears, Berry was Walt Whitman to Dylan’s William Blake. You’re free to pick your own bards.

Dylan in Studio A.

I remember hearing “Like A Rolling Stone” for the first time in the kitchen of my childhood home when I was 14 years old. The memory is as vivid as most of the life-changing moments of my life, which generally revolve around sex, drugs and rock and roll. When the song came on the cheesy plastic radio in our kitchen, time stopped and I was swept up inside some sort of mystical swoon that was mind-expanding and emotionally transformative. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was one of those moments that sent me down Blake’s road of excess where “you never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” I have yet to to find, on a spiritual or intellectual level, “what is more than enough.”  And I hope I don’t. It was Dylan, among a handful of other visionaries, that got me searching.

Here’s Dylan performing “Like A Rolling Stone” at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965. He’s roundly booed by a vocal majority of folk music squares. Others in the crowd, were quite aware, however, that they were watching the future of rock and roll.

‘The Homosexuals’: Mike Wallace interviews Gore Vidal & early gay rights activists, 1967
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Gore Vidal and Mike Wallace 11 years later, in 1978. Vidal later resented television appearances, saying he was forced to do TV because no one read anymore.

1967 was an intense year for gay activism. In the UK, the the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalized gay sex for men over the age of 21 in England and Wales (No mention of lesbians?). In the US, however, only Illinois had revoked its sodomy laws That’s it. Illinois. Until the next decade it was just, “Hey, enjoy your one state! Hope you like the midwest, homos!” The 10th Amendment aside, gay activism was gaining more traction and publicity in the US, and this amazing little edition of CBS Reports—subtly titled “The Homosexuals”—was a pretty groundbreaking piece for gay men, despite its conservative conclusions.

Mike Wallace does a great job with the interviews. There’s a tragic one with an anonymous man on probation who had already been to jail three times for “committing homosexual acts.” Wallace says he’s “in therapy,” and the man identifies himself as “sick,” alluding to a domineering mother as the source of his sexuality. There’s a fantastic interview with Gore Vidal too, but my favorite is the representative from The Mattachine Society, an early gay rights group whose stated goals were:

1) Unify homosexuals isolated from their own kind
2) Educate homosexuals and heterosexuals toward an ethical homosexual culture paralleling the cultures of the Negro, Mexican and Jewish peoples
3) Lead the more socially conscious homosexual to provide leadership to the whole mass of social variants
4) Assist gays who are victimized daily as a result of oppression.

During an era where “identity politics” was just getting started, this was an incredibly sophisticated set of political objectives. The Mattachine Society had already been around since 1950, and the group’s original organizing principles were based on the Communist Party’s. Most the the original members were active communists, and founder Harry Hay actually recommended his own expulsion from the the party, which did not technically allow gay members. (They actually ended up dismissing him for security reasons, but declaring him a “Lifelong Friend of the People.”)

This little documentary really covers a range of self-acceptance, from the man who believed himself to be sick to the open and unashamed Vidal and the Mattachine members. Wallace however, makes his opinions clear, saying matter-of-factly:

The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested or capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of one-chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits. And even on the streets of the city — the pick-up, the one night stand, these are characteristics of the homosexual relationship.


Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘The Woman Who Wasn’t There’: The true story of Tania Head, who lied about being a 9/11 survivor
05:15 am



The Woman Who Wasn't There
Last week, allegations emerged that Spokane NAACP president Rachel Dolezal—who says she is African-American and in the past claimed she was a victim of racism—is, in fact, white. Similar incidents have occurred over the years (Binjamin Wilkomirski pretended to be a holocaust survivor, for example), and after the initial shock of revelation, naturally many questions emerge, though the main one is always simply this: Why?

Lessor known is the story of Tania Head, a survivor of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, who became a beloved figure within the community of 9/11 survivors. Tania was working in the south tower of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, and though badly burned, she made it out of the building alive; her fiancé, Dave, who was in the north tower, did not. Tania’s back-story and account of that horrific day were especially tragic, but her bright personality and positive outlook was inspiring to others, including her fellow survivors, even the media.

To behold (Tania) Head’s smile is to know the terrorists did not even close to winning. To see that smile is also to be challenged to be as decent and positive as this true survivor. (New York Daily News, September 7th, 2006)

Tania and her smile
On September 27th, 2007, the New York Times ran a front-page story about Tania: “In a 9/11 Survival Tale the Pieces Just Don’t Fit.” In the piece, it was revealed that no part of Tania’s story could be validated. Merrill Lynch, the company she claimed she was working for—the reason she was in the World Trade Center on 9/11—had no record of ever employing a Tania Head. Harvard, the school she claimed to have graduated from, didn’t have a record of her having attended. The family of Dave, who did die in the north tower, said they never heard of her. Friends and associates spoke of varying accounts that Tania had told over the years. The Times noted that she had nothing to gain financial from the deception.

So, why did she do it? Why would she pretend to be a involved in one of one of America’s greatest tragedies? How could she befriend and lie to actual victims of this horrific event?
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
Beautiful vintage restaurant menu art as a study of social change
09:42 am

Pop Culture


Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
On June 13th, the Los Angeles Public Library will begin a multi-platform exhibition of their massive collection of vintage restaurant menus as part of a project called To Live and Dine in L.A.  The exhibition at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles (which will be presented along with a series of celebrity-chef panels) consists of more than 9,000 vintage menus collected from the L.A. area and archived at the library. The event is being held as a prelude to the June 15th release of a book by Angel City Press documenting the entire project called To Live and Dine in L.A.: Menus and the Making of the Modern City by author, curator, and USC professor, Josh Kun (in collaboration with, and a forward written by, chef Roy Choi).

Josh Kun was the mastermind behind a similar project, Songs in the Key of Los Angeles, back in 2013, that incorporated pieces of sheet music culled from the archives of the L.A. Public Library—spanning the years from 1859 to 1959—to illustrate the history of Los Angeles through song. 

As for the historical importance of studying old restaurant menus in helping to understand the evolution of society in general, Kun told the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books:

Menus are social text. They’re urban text. They’re pieces of fiction. And they are written. How can we look at our city and its history through the window of menus? Through the menus, how can we see what was missing? We’ve got about 25,000 places to eat in L.A., but we are the ‘epicenter of hunger,’ according to the USDA. We live in both a foodie society and a food bank society. How do you reconcile those two things? How can restaurants and food be used to restore ideas around justice, around community and equality?


In other words, with many of them dating back as far as the 1800s, these vintage menus aren’t just beautiful to look at, they also serve as tiny time capsules, little printed microcosms that can be used to chart the progress of Los Angeles in regards to societal issues that have occurred over the past century. For example, studying these menus can illuminate the ongoing class struggle against social and economic inequality, the rise of car culture, improvements (or not) in race relations, or even how different types of foods have fallen in and out of favor throughout L. A.’s various historical eras due to immigration, drastic economic changes, or the fact that wartime rationing was in effect. 

According to Kun:

Menus are urban texts which give us a glimpse into a specific time and place by revealing cultural identity, class conflict, race, and gender disparities. Some of the menus we came across are food documents of privilege and speak to issues of food awareness and inequality. It is those kinds of histories that are buried within the menu.

Browsing through these menus may make you hungry, but if you delve in deep enough, you’ll come to the realization that there was a time when ordering from the “dollar menu” was something that only rich people could do. So, if your stomach starts growling as you study these works of delicious art, remember that it’s always best to take time capsules with food.

The menu collection at the L.A. Public Library’s website is searchable. We recommend searching by decade—you can get lost in that collection for hours.



Much more after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Art Nouveau, ‘Laugh-In,’ and Hallmark Psychedelia—Art Chantry speaks
08:25 am



When I got my review copy of Art Chantry Speaks: A Heretic’s History of 20th Century Graphic Design in the mail from Feral House, I was mighty thrilled, as I’ve long admired Chantry’s work as a graphic artist. His clear reverence for and deep knowledge of the history of his discipline, particularly in championing its seediest manifestations and its obsolete processes, informs not just his own body of work, which as much as anyone’s was THE look of garage punk and grunge, but the work of the countless artists whom he’s inspired. In my past life as an Art Director in alt-weeklies, Chantry’s posters, record covers, and his work for the Seattle music magazine The Rocket, reproduced in the must-have Some People Can’t Surf, were frequent go-tos for inspiration when Photoshop just couldn’t do the job. Art Chantry Speaks is a collection of opinionated musings on a variety of design topics, and I was struck by a significant overlap between Chantry’s essays and DM’s coverage, so we decided that rather than simply review the book, we’d draft Chantry into service as a sort of guest blogger, republishing a few of his essays as DM posts. This is the first, and we’re grateful to Chantry and Feral House for letting us use his work in this form.—Ron Kretsch

In the mid- to late 1960s, the psychedelic underground revolution had already started to wane. It was a literal flash in the pan. All of the original pioneers had morphed into varying sorts of hacks and quacks, pushing new agendas as far-fetched as Buddhism, meditation, world domination, the Internet and flying saucers. Basically, the acid world was as unstable as the drug itself. Old doses of blotter have short half-lives and lose their potency fast. Vintage blotter acid collectors (yes, there is a huge market) probably couldn’t get high if they ate their entire collections. So goes the culture as well.

Whenever an underground counterculture (a rebellion against some established norm) erupts, there is usually a pushback from the mainstream. The first is “attack” (“Them dirty stinkin’ hippies should all be shot”) and then there is “assimilation” (“Gee, that paisley looks so cool on you!”).

Back in the Romantic rebellion of the late 1800s there emerged a back-to-nature movement that resulted in the Arts and Crafts revival and a rejection of established artistic norms. This rejection of the status quo happens with such periodic intensity, you could probably set a clock by it. During this phase, the reaction was heavily against the industrial revolution.

The initial process of saying “no” in this case was simply to return to handmade objects. This included an embrace of nature forms that was intellectually and emotionally antithetical to the Victorian stye. The immediate result was a rebirth of organic design and the Arts and Crafts movement. Some people literally returned to the woods to live like wild men (at least “wild” from their stilted perspective). Think Emerson, Thoreau or Gibbons.

Of course, industry—powered by the fast buck—saw opportunity and attempted to copycat the new romantic look. The result was Art Nouveau—a homespun manufactured style applied as decoration (just like Victorian motifs). The big difference was the curve. The Art Nouveau manufactured style almost appeared to have been grown on a machine like some kind of vining plant made of iron.

Soon, new archeological discoveries in Egypt and Mesoamerica resulted in another semi-rejection of the current design culture. The ancient “primitive man” geometric stylings as seen in King Tut’s tomb and the newly “discovered” cultures of the Mayans and the Aztecs resulted in quick adaptations to the Art Nouveau style (and so much easier to make with a machine). The result was Art Deco.

Art Nouveau started to look old-fashioned and Art Deco became the new rage of the machine society. Thoreau’s Walden Pond gave way to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The resulting mechanized World Wars did more to end that dream than any artistic rejection ever could.

Flash forward to the early post-WWII period in America. Displaced vets couldn’t fit into the new peacetime America. Uniformity was valued and loose cannons were depicted in popular media as Communist threats to the social order. The beatniks, biker culture, surfers, hot-rodders, truckers, abstract expressionist painters, gay underground, poets and bop musicians were the new Bohemia and they were derided as decadent trash. But the seeds of rejection they sowed took fruit in the early/mid ‘60s, just as the international modern stylings of the new space age and the “big idea” advertising culture combined with industrial ingenuity to create a new golden era of conformity and high style. “007, meet Helvetica Bold…”

The outsider subcultures were still there, developing their own aesthetic systems, not too dissimilar to the Romantics of the previous century. A new “back to nature” dream and a rebirth of the “community of man” emerged, albeit in scattered pockets. When the psychedelic culture emerged a real alternative to the exiting dominant culture became a possibility. It’s been said that with the hippies, “many puddles became a pond,” and soon many ponds became a lake, then an ocean. Then a tidal wave…


The high art style of this new “psychedelic” look was so heavily borrowed from early Art Nouveau that it was almost an embarrassment. Wes Wilson discovered typography by a famous Arts & Crafts typographer, Alfred Roller, and placed it on a waving baseline—and invented “psychedelic lettering”! Stanley Mouse began to ape Beardsley. Other artists copycatted Alphonse Mucha posters to a T. Rick Griffin followed the hand-drawn like work of scores of Blake imitators and shoved it through surfing and acid to arrive at his incredibly “organic” style.

The psychedelic style was an LSD-washed version of Art Nouveau. Even the communal movement owed its origins to Walden dreams. It was history repeating itself all over again, but this time in mind-blowing colors.

Industry was still there too, cranking out their version of what they thought they could sell. Whenever a new “culture” emerges and finds popular appeal to the young, the marketing monsters are right there ready to go with their mass-produced version of the same thing. But they never get it quite right. The very industrial design process removes the “natural” content and replaces it with uniform mediocrity. In this case, the fake psych look literally replaces the larger mainstream culture’s very idea of what Psychedelia was.

Along came “industrial psychedelia” or, as I prefer, “Hallmark psychedelia” (because Hallmark greeting cards tried so hard for so long to co-opt the style). It was all bright colors, swirling everything, cartoon characters, goofy humor and totally innocent fun. Basically, the exact opposite of the earnestness of the Hippie movement and its goals.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
Relics of Russia’s near future: When progress comes to an end
06:07 am



Photographer Danila Tkachenko traveled across Russia documenting the abandoned buildings, monuments and military craft of a once imagined utopia. His pictures of these snowbound relics look like possible sets for a Star Wars movie or images for a book by J. G. Ballard—Myths of the Near Future?

The photographs form part of his project Restricted Areas, which examines “the human impulse towards utopia, about our striving for perfection through technological progress.”

Any progress comes to its end earlier or later, what’s interesting for me is to witness what remains after.

Many of the places Danila photographed were until recently kept secret, having never appeared on any maps or public records.

Restricted Areas won Danila top prize at CENTER’s Director’s Choice Award earlier this year. See more of Danila’s work here.

Airplane – amphibia with vertical take-off VVA14. The USSR built only two of them in 1976, one of which has crashed during transportation.


Former mining town which has been closed and made a bombing trial field. The building on the photo shows the cultural center, one of the objects for bombing.

More of Danila Tkachenko’s photos of Russia’s forgotten future, after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Be careful with that hammer & sickle, Eugene: Soviet accident prevention posters
06:48 am



During the 19th century posters were primarily used as a means of advertising and publicity. It would take the events of the First World War and the Russian Revolution to change their use from commercial to a means of propaganda and education. Posters became a means to educate or re-educate a nation according to the beliefs of their leaders—whether as a rallying point in war or to inspire revolution.

For Soviet Russia the poster was a means of spreading state information targeting the population across a vast and diverse country. Literacy had been a problem in Russia—according to 1897 national census, under Tsarist rule just 28.4% of the populace were literate. After the revolution, Lenin promised to “liquidate illiteracy” and by 1926, 56.6% of Russians were registered as literate.

However, knowing that at least half of your workforce was illiterate was a hinderance to the planned Soviet industrialization of the country.The workforce had to be educated as quickly and successfully as possible. To solve the problem accident prevention posters were produced disseminating clear and succinct warnings to all possible hazards faced by the Soviet workforce in industry and agriculture. “Be careful with a fork,” “Hey Scatterbrain! Don’t cripple your Friends!” or “Don’t Walk on Fish!” reinforced the need for the individual to take responsibility of their own actions for the benefit of the greater good. Though many of the messages may strike us now as bizarre or strange (“A fan is a friend of labor. Let it work forever.”), they all reflect a revolutionary change to the quality of health and safety at work.
‘Hide the Hair.’
‘Don’t Walk on Fish!’
‘Chemical containers should have accurate inscriptions!’
‘Hey Scatterbrain! Don’t cripple your Friends!’
More health and safety notices from Soviet era Russia, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Stop what you’re doing right now and watch Judy Garland sing her heart out for the late JFK
10:45 am



A few weeks ago, I fell (as is my wont) deep, deep down into the audiophile rabbit hole that is the Steve Hoffman Music Forums. Hoffman is a well-known audio engineer and he’s been responsible for hundreds of classic albums getting the deluxe treatment, mostly via DCC, the audiophile label famous for their gold CDs. His website is where audiophiles congregate to discuss and debate the software side of the “perfect sound” equation. I can geek out there for hours on end and often do.

So it was there, reading a thread on Hoffman’s remastering of the famous live Judy Garland album, Judy At Carnegie Hall that it occurred to me—annual TV viewings of The Wizard of Oz when I was a kid aside—that I didn’t really know that much about Judy Garland, considered by many to be the greatest entertainer who ever lived. Numero Uno. #1. Of all time. Never to be equalled. That’s already admitting to a pretty substantial gap in my musical knowledge, ain’t it? I can’t have that!

So I got a copy of Judy At Carnegie Hall, the cherished document of what was probably the single most triumphant night in the career of the great performer. It more than lives up to its reputation. It’s practically flawless. Awe-inspiring. Her voice contains multitudes. Happy. Sad. Resilient. Defeated. Deeply moving—I mean you can REALLY lose yourself in her songs. Wow.

That album is the damndest thing. I played it six times in a row the day I got it. It totally blew my mind. I expected it to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be this good!

What takes Judy At Carnegie Hall to a whole other level though, is not what Garland herself is doing per se, but the reaction to what she’s offering her audience that’s reflecting back from them. I’ve never heard more rapturous applause (and shouting, screaming, stamping) for anybody or for any reason, at any time in my entire life. The audience isn’t merely applauding madly, they are going fucking bananas, creating an affectionate feedback loop between them and the great (and very grateful) performer that takes the whole thing into an emotionally exhausting overdrive. There’s nothing—I repeat—nothing like it. I’ll say it once more: Judy At Carnegie Hall is the damndest thing.

So now that revelation sets me off to find out more about Judy Garland, and if you have read this far, trust me when I tell you that the 2004 PBS American Masters documentary Judy Garland: By Myself is one of the most fascinating—and unspeakably SAD—documentaries you will ever see. [Easy to find on torrent trackers (PBS aired it again in March) and it’s also on the DVD extras of Easter Parade.]

The thing that I was struck with when it was over (other than a deep, deep feeling of sadness I couldn’t shake for days) was how Garland was this mutant force of nature, possessing a mysterious innate source of genius that she could draw from. Even when her frail body was ready to give out, she still gave all for her audiences, even if it meant going home in a wheelchair. Looking at this overview of her 47 short years on this planet, one sees a woman whose magnificent talent will never be forgotten. She died young, but she’s immortal, as many of her performances are woven into the fabric of American history.

And that brings me to the thing I wanted to call your attention to, Garland’s mind-boggling rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” taped a few weeks after the assassination of JFK, on December 13th, 1963. Kennedy and Garland had been friends. She raised money for him and kept a summer home near his in Hyannis Port. The oft-told story about Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” over to the telephone line to JFK many times during his presidency was no myth of Camelot, it actually did happen, several times.

After the tragic events in Dallas, Garland, then doing a weekly series on CBS, went to the network executives with the idea to do a tribute to the fallen President. They were very cool to the idea. One of the CBS brass is alleged to have told her that in a month or so, that no one would even remember Kennedy! Undaunted Garland chose to end her next show with a powerful performance of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” that left no one, but no one wondering who she was singing it for. (According to Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft, in the studio Garland had said “This is for you, Jack,” but it was edited out for broadcast by an asshole at ABC.)

This is the most stunning thing. Raw emotion—what the entire nation must’ve been feeling—channeled through the body and mighty lungs of this tiny, frail woman, who’d been told by her doctors only a few years before this that she’d soon become an invalid and be bedridden for the rest of her life.

More after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Civil Rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer speaks about her childhood as a sharecropper
05:46 am



I was at the Library of Congress last week, and while it was utterly grand to be there, I rolled my eyes so hard I nearly snapped a couple of cables when I spotted that pernicious Thomas Carlyle quotation high up on the wall: “THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD IS THE BIOGRAPHY OF GREAT MEN.” Look, I understand that it was put there over a century ago, and I wouldn’t expect simple values dissonance alone to be a sufficient reason to alter something so historical, but it was still a drag to see that in 2015 (the exhibit lionizing Columbus and Cortez’s New World explorations without mentioning the word “genocide” anywhere was also a disappointment—the USA still has a loooooong-ass way to go).

One of the deep faults of the “Great Man” theory of history is that it excludes the contributions of thousands, if not millions, of unheralded activists who, though they didn’t happen to be the marquee names who got to make speeches that were recorded for posterity, still committed much of their resources and lives to the causes and movements that shaped the world we live in. A more obvious flaw is the continually maddening omission of great women. For example, I hold it as a significant demerit (among many) of the public education system that I never knew the name of the amazing Shirley Chisholm, the first black congresswoman and the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States, until my late college years, when I was channel-surfing and I randomly caught a doc about her on PBS.

Another such figure I’m salty about never learning about in school, also from the US Civil Rights Movement, as it happens, is voting rights organizer Fannie Lou Hamer, a crucial activist and orator whose contributions to freedom in America are not, by my reckoning, sufficiently heralded—she not only endured being beaten and shot at, she underwent a non-consensual hysterectomy as part of a eugenics program. Justifiably furious at such shocking abuse at the hands of her doctor, she dove headlong into activism, helping found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and giving a powerful and pivotal speech to the 1964 Democratic National Convention Credentials Committee, challenging the legitimacy of Mississippi’s all-white delegation, and describing the horrors she endured for merely trying to register to vote. Presumptive nominee Lyndon Johnson, in a total asshole move, tried to keep the speech out of the news by calling a specious press conference. Hamer got crazy amounts of news coverage anyway.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
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